Recognizing The Stages Of Depression: What You Need To Know

Updated May 12, 2021

See if this rings a bell. Your alarm goes off, and you wake up, but you don’t have the energy to get out of bed. Eventually, you can will yourself up—maybe after hitting snooze on the alarm a dozen times—and it is all you can do to get dressed and head to work. Throughout the day, you feel irritable. Every little thing that happens feels like a big deal. You have trouble concentrating, which makes simple decisions difficult. Even the things you typically enjoy don’t bring you happiness. After a long day of struggling, you feel worthless and wonder why you are the way you are. If any part of that feels familiar to you, then you could be suffering from depression symptoms. 

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What is depression? That is a more complicated question than it may seem. According to the Mayo Clinic, the term depression refers to “a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest.” The common symptoms of most include low moods, change in appetite, change in weight, no longer interested in normally pleasurable activities, trouble sleeping, feelings of fatigue and low energy, outbursts of anger or irritability, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

Traditionally, there has been a stigma surrounding mental health conversations, but thankfully the tide is turning in that regard. Whereas previous generations were expected to “just deal with it” and were culturally discouraged from talking about their struggles, today, people are growing more open to struggling together. Because mental health is losing this stigma, we now know that depression is one of the most common mental health disorders among adults. 17.3 million adults in the United States experience some depression. There are many depression types, which means a diagnosis is not a “one size fits all” proposition. You could experience all of the symptoms of depression or only a few. You could go through stages where you experience a mild form of depression for a period of time and exhibit no symptoms for another. This emotional roller coaster can be a chaotic experience, and even more so if you are unable to recognize the signs of depression.

The truth is that everyone experiences sadness at different points in their lives, but the symptoms of depression are much more severe. Depression affects people on a spectrum. Some experience intense depressive episodes regularly, some experience more mild forms. Regardless, living with any depression isn’t easy, but you are not alone in your struggle. Hundreds of millions of adults around the globe experience symptoms of depression every year. Luckily, depression is treatable. One of the first steps toward treatment is recognizing the depression types and the signs and symptoms of each. The following list includes several different types of depression, but it is by no means an exhaustive list or a diagnostic tool. This list is meant to be a starting place for you to familiarize yourself with the types of depression, which will help you recognize the signs of depression in your own life and the lives of your loved ones. After reviewing this list, if you believe you may be experiencing a form of depression, talk to a licensed professional to get a treatment plan that works for you.

Major Depression

Major depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), is the most common type of depression. People with major depression experience consistently low moods, fluctuation in weight and eating habits, difficulty sleeping, low energy, irritability, and/or feelings of extreme sadness and hopelessness. A depressive episode can be triggered by a traumatic experience or a stressful life event, but it doesn’t have to be. Major depression can also be caused by a combination of brain chemicals and genetic makeup.

A professional diagnoses major depression through a thorough evaluation. While major depression is a serious condition, it is treatable. Because the symptoms of major depression vary in severity, a licensed professional may suggest talk therapy. If you have already experienced a depressive episode, you are at risk for another. The key to preventing progressive symptoms is to talk to a licensed professional as early as you notice the presence of symptoms. The licensed mental health professionals at ReGain are here to help.

Perinatal Depression

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Perinatal depression is a term that includes all forms of prenatal depression and postpartum depression. According to the National Institute of Health, perinatal depression “is defined as depression in pregnancy, around childbirth, or within the first year postpartum.” Similarly to major depressive disorder, someone experiencing perinatal depression could experience anger or irritability, no longer interested in pleasurable activities, consistent crying, mood swings, fatigue, and fluctuation in weight and appetite. Specific symptoms of perinatal depression include difficulty feeling attached to the baby in development or after birth (also called postpartum depression, or PPD).

Perinatal depression does not have a specific cause, though a person who experiences other depression types before pregnancy is considered a higher risk for perinatal depression. Research indicates that perinatal depression is likely caused by various factors, including normal life stress (work, family, financial, etc.), past traumatic experiences, and pregnancy and childbearing (emotional and physical). A medical professional is required for a diagnosis of perinatal depression, but it is treatable. Perinatal depression treatments include cognitive behavior therapy, talk therapy, and potentially hormone therapy, depending on your symptoms' severity.

Atypical Depression

Another depression type is atypical, a common subtype of MDD accompanied by specific “atypical” symptoms. The symptoms include highly reactive moods (as opposed to consistently low moods), an increase in weight and appetite, oversleeping/fatigue during the day, heaviness in arms or legs that lasts a significant period of time during the day, and intense sensitivity to personal rejection. In severe cases, this form of depression may interfere with your ability to complete normal daily activities.

Because of the nature of its symptoms, this type of depression can be one of the most difficult depression types to diagnose, but it is far from a “rare” diagnosis. This form of depression is more prevalent in people who experience bipolar disorder and those who experience a depressive episode at an early point (teenage years). A licensed professional is required for the diagnosis, but the good news is it is treatable with talk therapy. 

Situational Depression

Situational depression is a type of depression that lasts a short period of time and is related to a traumatic or stressful event (or multiple events). This type of depression includes difficulty sleeping, consistent crying, depressed mood, anxiety, difficulty completing everyday tasks, no longer interested in pleasurable activities, and no longer interested in food. A typical diagnosis of this type of depression comes when you show symptoms within 90 days after a difficult or traumatic life event, and the symptoms continue beyond 6 months.

Life events are unpredictable, and at any given time, a stressful situation can be introduced into your life. Coping mechanisms will help you prepare to combat persistent depression symptoms that arise from situational depression.

Seasonal Depression

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Seasonal Depression, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a common mood disorder that causes recurring episodes of depression at similar times every year. Seasonal depression is most common in climates with limited sunlight in certain months of the year and in locations where sunlight is regularly absent due to cloudiness or a more northern location. The symptoms of seasonal depression are similar to an episode of major depression, including irritability, feelings of sadness or anxiety, lack of concentration, no longer interested in typically enjoyable activities, and an increased need for sleep. The good news is that seasonal depression is typically self-diagnosable and can be treated with a range of treatments from lightboxes and regular exercise to cognitive behavior therapy and medicine, depending on the severity of symptoms.

Manic Depression

Manic depression, or bipolar disorder, is a mental health condition characterized by extreme mood swings from manic highs to depressive lows. Someone experiencing manic depression can experience mood swings on rare occasions or frequently, and the shift between mania and depression is unpredictable. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of manic episodes include being abnormally upbeat wired or jumpy, increased energy, euphoria (an exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence), decreased need for sleep, unusual talkativeness, racing thoughts, distractibility, and poor decision making. Symptoms of an episode of major depression include depressed mood (sad, empty, hopeless, or tearful), marked loss of interest in most activities, significant weight loss or weight gain, insomnia or sleeping too much, restlessness, or slowed behavior, and extreme fatigue.

The unpredictability of manic and depressive episodes can cause major disruptions in your life and the lives of your loved ones. Manic depression, of all the depression types on this list, is the one that most requires professional mental health treatment. Without treatment, symptoms can progress to psychotic depression or mania, which could require hospitalization. If you feel like you may be experiencing these extreme mood swings regularly, contact a mental health professional immediately.

Persistent Depression

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Persistent depressive disorder, also called dysthymia, is a term for depressive disorders that last for two years or more. A persistent depressive disorder is a chronic depression condition where depressive episodes come and go over a long period of time. Sometimes these episodes vary in severity, and it is possible to experience an episode of MDD in the midst of persistent depression, which is referred to as double depression. In addition to common depression symptoms, the symptoms of persistent depression include low self-esteem, trouble making decisions, consistent guilt over past actions or events, decreased activity over an extended period of time, avoiding social interaction, and excessive anger.

Persistent depression requires medical diagnosis and treatment, so if you feel you have exhibited the symptoms of this disorder for a period of time, reach out to someone and seek treatment. Though they may have been present for a long time, this type of disorder's symptoms is treatable with professional help.


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